By: Leah Jorgensen
On July 28, I received an email. I was offered a 4-night Caribbean sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas’ Simulation sailing. The kicker? It was sailing on August 1, and only available to fully vaccinated guests. So I quickly contacted my mother since she is retired and always up for an adventure, made sure we both had our passports and vaccination records, and accepted the offer! Three days later, my father and brother drove us down to Galveston to the ship!
For a Simulation sailing, just about everything is the same, but the guests are at 10% capacity, and the CDC was disguised onboard. Having 400 guests on a ship that has the capacity for 4,370 passengers made it feel like the ship was just ours! It was a little eerie how empty it was, but there was never a line or a wait for anything! The entire crew is vaccinated and had been in quarantine on the ship for 2 months already. They were thrilled to be working again after 15 months, and so happy to just see other people on board. I’ve never seen a happier crew, happier entertainers, and happier guests.
Embarkation was seamless! We could only arrive at the port at our assigned time, and everything was organized. Passports were checked, vaccination records were checked, recorded, and photographed, quickly went through security, and then we were allowed onboard!
One of the biggest headaches of starting any sailing is the safety drills. Due to Covid, they are no longer safe since social distancing needs to be followed. But Royal Caribbean now has a fantastic app for your phone! Once we made it to our rooms and picked up our Sea Passes, we watched a video on our apps of how to find and wear lifejackets, what to do in an emergency, and played the sound clip of the ship’s emergency notification horn. Then it was time to find our assigned lifeboat. Once there, a crew member verified we had watched the safety video and placed a sticker on our Sail Passes to show we had completed the safety drill.
Now I’m not one who wants to keep my phone on me when I’m on vacation (isn’t the point to get unplugged and out of reach?), but the app really was handy! Easy to use and find scheduled activities, we were able to make dinner reservations, reserve show tickets, and make our own personalized schedule. If you’re not sure where something is, the deck plans are there at your fingertips! Don’t worry about waiting in line at Guest Services- your on-board account is already in your hand!
Speaking of hands, we are still living in a pandemic. Every doorway now has hand sanitizer, but instead of just sitting there available, we were asked (required) to use it every time. And outside the Windjammer restaurant, soap and water stations have been installed, and are required to be used before entering. The amount of food has not changed, and the crew will happily put whatever you would like on your plate for you. (Really- I suggest taking the stairs as much as possible so you can fill up with less guilt!) The crew was constantly sanitizing hand rails, chairs, tables, anything that could be touched, and often disinfected the walls. The ships have always been clean, but it was spotless- all of the time.
Being vaccinated, I was allowed into any venue, activity, public area, and restaurant. But being a simulation, there were some people that were chosen to be “un-vaccinated”. Those who are vaccinated are given a purple plastic bracelet to wear- and they were often checked too. Those who were un-vaccinated had specific shows, time and location for main dining, and activities they were allowed to enter. They still had a full schedule and throughout the sailing were still allowed to see and do everything, but there were just specific times they were allowed to do certain activities. Everyone is still required to wear masks while moving around the ship, but we were allowed to take them off while sitting and actively eating and drinking, and while outside. The crew is still required to leave their masks on even while outside.
When we arrived in Cozumel, we parked next to the Adventure of the Seas, that is currently sailing out of Nassau, Bahamas. Vaccinated guests are allowed to leave the ship, but unvaccinated guests are only allowed off for a Royal Caribbean excursion. On the docks, we got the chance to talk with some very happy folks from Michigan who told us what a fantastic vacation they were having! Their sailing had about 900 guests and they were getting the Royal treatment as well! Mom and I were able to find a taxi (William in taxi 318) to get us to a beach to stick our feet in the water, which is all we were looking for, and back to the dock (I do not normally suggest ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ as there’s always a chance of being late and being left!)! All of the shops in Cozumel were ecstatic to see people shopping there again- the pandemic and halting of travel has really affected us all.
All-in-all, I felt extremely safe. The safety protocols are working and people are able to be back at work. This sailing was a dream, but I hope we don’t have to live through this again in my lifetime. If you do get a chance to sail on the Independence of the Seas, especially before January (and contracts move workers), tell pianist Timothy Boaz, guitarist Darla Fox, and waiters Sanjay and Red that I sent you!